Faced with a visceral tragedy like the unfathomable shooting of 20 young children in Newtown, Conn., it's natural to focus on guns. But in many ways, this is a mistake. Ultimately, the Newtown massacre was not the product of firearms; it was the act of a sick individual who chose guns as his mechanism of murder.
Clearly, we need action. But to reduce the probability of future atrocities, we don't need federal gun bans; we need to fundamentally re-shape our approach to gun control. We must move our focus away from machines (firearms) and instead look toward people. Many Americans (myself included), believe in the second amendment and support its continued preservation. We can preserve robust rights of gun ownership while also improving public safety.
America is a democracy composed of 50 different states. As a result, gun laws vary across the nation. In Connecticut, assault weapons are highly restricted, but in Missouri the rules are almost casual. In New York, entering a Starbucks while armed might well earn you a prison term, but in Virginia it would barely raise eyebrows. Individual states have distinct relationships with different issues of social policy, including gun control. This isn't bad for America. In fact, it's good. Local democracy is more responsive democracy. And as we consider what action to take post-Newtown, we must ensure that local democracy is not subjugated to federal dictates.
Certainly the federal government has a role to play, but it must be a role which seeks common ground rather than the imposition of overly broad restrictions. To do the latter would be to render state authority and local opinion increasingly impotent.
Many gun-control advocates claim that overall access to firearms is the key determinant for gun massacres, and that broad restrictions will solve our problems. But is that really true? Just look at anti-gun Europe. If access were the key issue, France wouldn't have had Merah, Finland wouldn't have had Auvinen or Saari, Germany wouldn't have had Kretschmer, and Norway wouldn't have had Breivik. Broad restricting of guns isn't the key to addressing our problems. Attention to people is the key. This is where our focus must fall.
Instead of working against the vast majority of law abiding gun owners, federal lawmakers should work to protect society from those who would use guns to unjustly infringe upon the rights of others.
We should seek laws preventing gun sales to those who have violent tendencies or mental-health issues. Such laws must be narrowly tailored and enabled by an effective review process.
The federal government should also expand mental health services under Medicaid. Until we address the psychological causes of gun massacres, we will continue chasing the terrible curve of delayed action.
We should support aggressive efforts by law enforcement agencies such as the ATF and FBI to counter the illegal arms trade.
At the local level, we should improve security in schools. This could take a number of forms — sponsoring select staff volunteers to complete weapons courses, improving access control, or streamlining threat reporting between different local, state and federal agencies. Whatever steps we take, the federal government should be ready to provide grants to support this effort.
It is clear we need action. But we require reforms that are sensible and balanced and thus able to win national support. We must ensure that state democracy provides the foundation of relevant gun law. But we also need the federal government to embrace a crucial role — to support the states in re-framing the law away from a misconceived obsession with machines and towards people. Working together, we can build a new framework to serve our second amendment rights and better guard our communities.
Tom Rogan is a conservative writer who blogs at TomRoganThinks.com.